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Thanksgiving: Out of Many, One

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Recently, my friend, Michele, invited me to go see “Angels Unawares” at Boston College by sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz. Michele is involved with the awesome organization, A Faith that Does Justice.

Timothy is one of my favorite contemporary artists. This statue is a replica of the one commissioned by Pope Francis for St. Peter’s Square. "Angels Unawares" commemorates the journey of dozens of migrants and refugees from around the world – and throughout history. Each character is life-sized. In the center, is a set of angel wings – reminding us that each person is sacred.

I found the statue to be truly breathtaking and soul-stirring. I begged to know the story of each person – from where did they come? Why did they leave? What were they carrying? I thought back to stories about my family’s immigration experience and eagerly learned of Michelle’s family’s. Visiting the statute, which is at Boston College through November, was a truly sacred experience which brought immigration into focus for me, once again.

Then, last week, I was led to a documentary on Netflix called “Out of Many, One: The Immigrant’s Story" which featured the journey of immigrants in New York City enrolled in a class to prepare for the US Citizenship exam. (I did wonder: Would I pass the exam? Would you?!) I was struck by the many reasons people come, the many languages spoken, the many motives for becoming US citizens and the many ways these sisters and brothers in humanity support this country we call The United States. I listened to the oaths this country asks them to take and wondered – would I really be willing to take that oath? WOW!

I was transported back to when my dad became a citizen and the celebration that followed. I remembered that not everyone came to this country on their own volition. Millions of enslaved people were brought here and forced to work tirelessly in inhumane conditions – without the dignity due “a sacred person” as the Sculpture reminds us. And all of these people arrived on a land that was home to many Native American tribes – distinct peoples, with distinct values and cultures, living in distinct areas of what we call “this country”. I write to you from the land where Pawtucket, Nipmuc and Mass-adchu-es-et tribes lived.

First the statute. Then the documentary. On the heels of Thanksgiving.

What if this year as we prepare for and celebrate Thanksgiving, we put on the lens of “immigration”?

We may ponder:

  • By using the lens of immigration, does our understanding of “the First Thanksgiving” change?

  • How might we apply the concept “out of many, one” to our country’s history – or her-story? How do we assimilate this in our current political climate?

  • Who were/are the “dreamers” throughout history and what about the DREAMers today who are at the heart of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act?

  • How does the color of our skin or the country of origin affect immigration stories – past and present?

  • From where did our own families originate? If it were from another part of the country or world, why did they leave their home? How did they come to “this” place? How did they settle in? Who helped them? What did they keep (physical and psychological) from their homeland? What struggles did they have? What successes?

Some actions we may take in thanks-giving for the lives we live:

  • Visit the “Angels Unaware” statue

  • Watch the documentary “Out of Many, One”

  • Support immigrants – on an individual level in your circle of love or through an organization dedicated to helping those arriving in our country

  • Reach out to legislators and advocate for immigrants

  • Learn about the stories of Native Americans and enslaved people as well as more historical accounts of the first Thanksgiving

  • And pray

I humbly offer this prayer:

Oh Divine One,

We thank you for this country. We thank you for the Native American who cared for this earth before people arrived from other parts of the world - and we recognize that they continue to care for Mother Earth today. Thank you! We thank you for all the journeys made to this space and time. Help us to recognize that your Sacred Spark is in each person. May we reach out to one another in love, to heal, to repair the harm done by our fore-parents, to welcome, to shoulder, to learn, to dream, to build so that we may truly become out of many… one. Amen.

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